Trump taps ‘Tweeter Laureate’ Don Willett for 5th Circuit appeals court


Willett entertains his 98,000 Twitter followers with humor and historical insight.

Dallas appellate attorney Jim Ho also is tapped by Trump to join Willett in the 5th Circuit.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who took a greater role than normal in the appointments, called Ho and Willett brilliant.

President Donald Trump on Thursday announced that among his nominees for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, a jurist who shares the president’s affinity for Twitter and who was dubbed by the Texas House the state’s “Tweeter Laureate.”

But Willett did not take to social media with the news of his nomination until Thursday evening, leaving his 98,000 followers to wonder what humorous quip or historical reference he might have stashed away for such an occasion. Instead, they had to feast on some of his latest offerings, like Willett’s admission that he misplaced his glasses only to find them on the top of his head, and a photo of the family dog, Buddy — his “pawralegal.”

He broke his silence around 8 p.m., saying he had “no words” before expressing: “I am honored & humbled by @POTUS’s nomination to the 5th Circuit.”

“He’s got the knack,” Dallas attorney David Coale said. “He knows just the right tone.”

Earlier this year, Willett made Trump’s short list for the U.S. Supreme Court seat that went to Neil Gorsuch.

Dallas appellate attorney Jim Ho, who succeeded Ted Cruz as Texas solicitor general, has been tapped by Trump to join Willett in the 5th Circuit, along with two nominees with Louisiana ties, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt and attorney Kyle Duncan. Their additions would give the circuit 17 active judges and eight senior judges to handle appeals from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Cruz released a statement calling Ho and Willett “brilliant lawyers and principled conservatives.”

Sen. John Cornyn said the two will “faithfully interpret the law, not rewrite it.” Gov. Greg Abbott, who the American-Statesman reported in May had taken an active role in recruiting people for the positions, “can attest to their brilliance as lawyers and their unwavering commitment to the Rule of Law.”

RELATED: Greg Abbott plays outsized role in U.S. judicial vacancies

If approved by the Senate, Willett and Ho would join a court that is already considered one of the nation’s most conservative appellate courts. The 5th Circuit has made major rulings in recent years on the regulation of the oil and gas industry, abortion and voting rights.

Ho, an attorney with the Dallas firm Gibson Dunn and Crutcher, clerked with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He also worked for Cornyn. According to Cruz’s office, he assisted Cruz in his 2016 presidential campaign by fighting challenges related to the Canadian-born Cruz’s eligibility to run for president.

Willett has worked for some of the state’s most powerful political figures. From 2003 to 2005, he was deputy attorney general for legal counsel under then-Attorney General Abbott. Before then, he served as deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Justice Department and was special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002.

Willett, 51, graduated from Baylor University before going to Duke University for law school. The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation says Willett was a senior fellow there in the mid-1990s.

Willett, whose father died when he was 6, released a touching tribute to his mother on Wednesday on her 86th birthday. She worked at a truck stop as a waitress for 55 years, said Willett, who estimated she walked 250,000 miles on the job. Or, he tweeted, 85 times around the perimeter of Texas.

Willett won’t have to move to New Orleans for the job, so his tweets about Austin barbecue aren’t going anywhere.

But Willett’s online aim is not exclusively to dispense dad jokes or to share stories about his three children that he “co-founded” with his wife, according to his peers.

“He believes there’s an education role,” said Coale, the Dallas attorney, who heard Willett express his philosophy on a panel they shared about social media. “The courts tend to speak only to lawyers, and lawyers speak only to courts. Poor observers are trying to figure out what the heck happened. He’s trying to be a teacher.”

But, Coale offered, “sometimes he’s in the mood to just be funny.”

Dallas attorney John Browning, who wrote a law review article with Willett on judicial use of social media, called his co-author “one of the finest legal writers not just on the Texas Supreme Court, but on a national front.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

JUST IN: SWAT team at Pflugerville home Saturday for ‘barricaded subject’
JUST IN: SWAT team at Pflugerville home Saturday for ‘barricaded subject’

A SWAT team has been called to a home in Pflugerville on Saturday morning after receiving reports of a barricaded person inside, Austin police said.  Authorities said U.S. Marshals are at the home, and the person is refusing to come out. Media reports say the home is in the 14500 block of Harris Ridge Boulevard.  Police did not have further...
NYC postal worker arrested after police find 17,000 pieces of undelivered mail
NYC postal worker arrested after police find 17,000 pieces of undelivered mail

A New York City postal worker was arrested Thursday after 17,000 pieces of undelivered mail were found in his car, apartment and locker, authorities said. Aleksey Germash, who has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for more than 16 years, possessed undelivered mail since 2005, WPIX reported. He told investigators he held onto the mail because...
Trump rips New York Times reporter, defends Cohen
Trump rips New York Times reporter, defends Cohen

President Donald Trump came out swinging on Twitter Saturday morning, firing off three tweets attacking The New York Times and reporter Maggie Haberman. A story published Friday in the Times -- written by Haberman, Sharon LaFraniere and Danny Hakim -- suggested that Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen might cooperate with federal...
FORECAST: Showers possible Saturday in Austin, some storms could be severe
FORECAST: Showers possible Saturday in Austin, some storms could be severe

Showers are possible Saturday in Austin and some storms in Central Texas could become severe, producing hail and damaging winds, the National Weather Service said. Meteorologists put rain chances in Austin at 40 percent Saturday in the day and 20 percent at night. Forecasters say some storms stretching from east of Llano to Hallettsville could...
Queen Elizabeth turns 92: 5 fun facts
Queen Elizabeth turns 92: 5 fun facts

Queen Elizabeth II turned 92 on Saturday, and after 65 years on the throne, she holds the distinction of ruling longer than any monarch in the United Kingdom’s history.  The queen actually celebrates two birthdays each year: her actual birthday, which is April 21; and one in June when she hosts a parade -- weather permitting -- called &ldquo...
More Stories